Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith announced at a press conference on Thursday, just a half hour before the General Assembly voted on H.792, the Challenges for Change 2 legislation, that the Democratic leadership would float an amendment to hold a special session in July to resolve the $38 million budget gap.
The session would only occur, however, if the Senate cannot find the savings before adjournment in two weeks.
The amendment passed 130-12. Support for H.792, the Challenges bill itself, was less apparent: The measure passed, 98-43, on second reading. Final passage is expected today.
If the special session is deemed necessary, the Legislature would reconvene on July 22, Smith said, and would meet for “as long as it takes” in order for lawmakers to develop the reorganization plans in collaboration with the administration.
The Douglas administration’s proposals, many of which were rejected by the Legislature in the Challenges 2 bill, would have saved $31 million; the changes approved by lawmakers amounted to about $20 million in savings, according to the Joint Fiscal Office.
The amendment presented by Majority Leader Floyd Nease, D-Johnson, and Assistant Majority Leader Lucy Leriche, D-Hardwick, was largely appropriated from a Republican provision offered by Rep. Oliver Olsen, D-Jamaica, that called for a special session beginning June 15.
Forty-four GOP House members signed on to Olsen’s amendment.
In addition, Rep. Paul Poirier, D-Barre City, proposed an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the Challenges for one year and would have placed a surtax on the income tax in order to raise $38 million. Poirier pulled the amendment Thursday morning.
Nease said the Dems moved the date to July 22 because the latest revenue forecast numbers will be available then. In addition, the administration’s second progress report is due July 1, and the extra time will give legislative committees time to digest the information before the full Legislature meets on July 22.
Smith said the decision to hold a special session for the Challenges “reaffirms our commitment to avoid cuts to services that would affect our most vulnerable friends and neighbors but also understands we have a commitment to continue to provide effective and efficient services to Vermonters.”
Tom Evslin, who is the point man for the Challenges effort, thought the special session was a good idea.
“This is not saying they’re going to let the administration solve it,” Evslin said. “It’s saying we’re going to work together to get the problem solved, and I hope, and I’m sure, the Speaker also hopes that the Senate does get close enough to the target so they can adjourn early, and we’re going to work very hard in order to make that happen, but I think Vermonters can be assured now that the Legislature is committed to finishing the job.”
Here are two video clips from the press conference.